ARM is currently owned by SoftBank Group, a giant Japanese holding company previously featured on Ars for buying Boston Dynamics, buying Sprint, and buying stakes in Uber and GM’s Cruise. SoftBank bought ARM for $ 32 billion in 2016, and since then ARM has only gotten more powerful. ARM does not manufacture chips; instead, it sells IPs based on the ARM processor architecture in the form of its internal Cortex processor designs or licenses to design whatever you want using the ARM instruction set.
In 2016, SoftBank described ARM as its prized possession, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son describing it as “the center of SoftBank’s center”. In the coronavirus era, SoftBank has been hit hard by the massive valuations of Uber and WeWork, as well as the bankruptcy of OneWeb, and is now ready to sell ARM to raise funds.
As for SoftBank and Apple, Bloomberg said, “The two companies have had preliminary discussions, but Apple has no plans to pursue an offer. Arm’s licensing deal would not fit well with Apple’s hardware-driven business model. There may also be regulatory concerns regarding Apple. own a key license holder that provides so many rivals. ”
Apple’s situation is probably the case for most of the companies attached to ARM. ARM is so prevalent that its purchase will be a regulatory nightmare, and even the most forgiving regulators around the world must shudder at the idea of an existing ARM licensee buying ARM. Apple is in the process of transitioning its entire line of Macs from Intel to internal ARM chips, and it has the cash to buy ARM. However, would a government approve of Apple to gain so much power over the Android ecosystem? Qualcomm is another company closely related to ARM, but it is already a doomed monopoly in many countries thanks to its power in the market for ARM modems and SoCs for smartphones. Google has the money too, but it’s already making regulators nervous thanks to its control over the smartphone industry via Android.
SoftBank was a great home for ARM because it allowed the company to be neutral – SoftBank didn’t make devices or sell chips. Many companies interested in ARM would create a huge conflict of interest.
Nvidia is holder of an ARM license, but it is not a major competitor in the smartphone industry. Nvidia’s chips are sold on the strength of its GPUs, and the company’s biggest design wins (in fact, you could say “design wins”) are the Nintendo Switch, the Magic Leap-focused headset. the AR and its own Nvidia Shield Android TV box. Being mostly shut out of the mobile SoC market by Qualcomm, Nvidia began to focus on automotive hardware. The company’s latest SoC is called “Orion” and seems to be designed exclusively for self-driving cars, where its powerful GPUs can help with all kinds of computer vision calculations. With such a small market share, Nvidia could be one of the few ARM licensees that can squeak with regulatory approval.
If Nvidia doesn’t pull the trigger and ARM turns out to be “too big to buy,” there are other options. The Wall Street Journal’s original “ARM is for sale” report stated that “it is possible that SoftBank will ultimately choose to do nothing” and find a different way to deal with its money problems. The idea of an IPO for ARM has also been pioneered by SoftBank in the past, and this solution would also solve the regulatory issues surrounding selling to a tech company.